Split Decision: Virginia Delegation Divided Over The Violence Against Women Act

By Brian Carlton

March 19, 2021

The U.S. House still passed the bill, with more than 240 votes in support.

WASHINGTON D.C.- The U.S. House approved the Violence Against Women Act on Wednesday, the first step toward getting the bill reauthorized. But while the bill itself passed 244-172, the Virginia delegation was divided. Bob Good, Morgan Griffith, Ben Cline and Rob Wittman voted against the measure, claiming it was an attempt to strip rights, not restore them. 

“Democrats are using domestic violence, which is a serious issue, as a front for just their latest gun control bill,” Good claimed.

Delivering a speech on the House floor Wednesday, he pointed to the “red flag” portion of the bill as a problem. In this case, the “red flag” refers to when a court takes away a person’s guns, because that person has become a danger to themselves or others. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Virginia General Assembly just adopted the practice last year. 

“Red flag gun confiscation laws upend due process,” Good argued on Wednesday. “Under this legislation, an individual could have their guns removed from them without having the chance to face their accuser in court.”

It’s a bit more complicated than that, but we’ll go over the bill in a minute. The argument for Good and some other members of Virginia’s delegation is they would have supported just a flat renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. What some didn’t agree with were the changes in this year’s version.

“Violence against women is not – and should not be made into – a partisan issue,” said Rep. Wittman in a statement. “Our goal should be to serve victims, prevent domestic violence, and provide law enforcement with the resources they need to address crimes against women.”

Wittman actually co-sponsored H.R. 1892, which would have been a clean renewal of the previous version of the bill.

“We must act to reauthorize VAWA, and I stand ready to support a bipartisan bill that does not use women and girls to advance partisan agendas,” Wittman said.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Virginia’s House Democrats see the changes in this year’s edition as needed.  

“The Violence Against Women Act tells survivors: you deserve to lead safe and heathy lives, free from violence and fear,” said U.S. House Rep. Donald McEachin. “I am proud to have joined my colleagues in reauthorizing this legislation, which will ensure that all survivors – women, men and children – have the resources and support they need to seek justice, receive care and rebuild their lives.”  

What is The Violence Against Women Act? 

This is the latest chapter in a fight that’s been going on since 1994. The original bill was pushed for by then-Sen. Joe Biden and President Bill Clinton signed the act into law on Sept. 13 of that year. At that point, the bill set aside $1.6 billion to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women in the country. It also created an Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Dept. of Justice and set up a civil option. 

That means in cases that didn’t get prosecuted, women still have a path to get civil justice through the courts. It didn’t last long. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part allowing women to sue in federal court. The justices claimed it went beyond the federal government’s powers. But the rest of the bill got reauthorized without too many issues later in 2000, then again in 2005. In 2012, another fight ignited over the bill, as Democrats wanted to add a couple parts. 

First, they wanted to extend the bill’s protections to same-sex couples. Second, they wanted a section allowing battered and abused undocumented immigrants the right to claim a temporary visa. It took a full year of fighting, but the bill finally got reauthorized with those additions in 2013. Then we fast-forward to December 21, 2018. 

Due to the federal government shutdown that winter, the Violence Against Women Act expired on that date. Multiple attempts have been made to reauthorize it in the years since, but they keep falling short. That brings us to the latest attempt, made this week in the U.S. House.

The Latest Attempt

So what about the 2021 version of the bill? Why is it so controversial? In his statement, Wittman said he would have supported the “clean” version, without the changes.

“I fully support the original Violence Against Women Act,” Wittman said. “That’s not the bill we voted on today. After House Democrats allowed the original Violence Against Women Act to expire in 2019, they have twice introduced a reauthorization featuring highly partisan provisions, that has no chance of becoming law.”

The 2021 version does include several additions to the bill. First, it would strengthen existing laws, in order to let transgender women use women’s shelters. It also would allow transgender women to serve a prison sentence in a unit that matches their gender identity. 

Also, it provides five years of funding for domestic violence grant programs, while also expanding housing options for survivors. There’s also a key part for Native tribes. If there’s a sexual assault, child abuse case, domestic violence or stalking situation on tribal land, Natives currently have limited jurisdiction. Basically, if the suspect is not a member of the tribe, then tribal authorities don’t have jurisdiction and the case often goes away. This bill would give tribes jurisdiction, regardless of who the suspect is. 

And then there’s what Good referred to as the “red flag” portion. The older version of the bill had a clear stance toward gun rights. Anyone convicted of domestic violence or domestic abuse couldn’t buy or own a gun if they were still married to, lived with or had a child with their victim. 

A Couple Changes

The new version makes a couple changes. If you’re convicted of stalking, you wouldn’t be able to own a gun. The same goes for a dating partner, if they’re convicted of domestic violence or domestic abuse. If you assault your girlfriend, then you could lose the ability to buy a gun under this bill. 

That’s what Good opposed.

“That means a complaint and a judicial order could suspend a constitutionally guaranteed right with no chance for the accused to respond under the law,” Good said, speaking to the House on Wednesday.

Wittman, meanwhile, argued several of the above changes hurt more than they helped.

“These provisions actually weaken protections for women by curtailing the resources available to law enforcement for prosecuting those who commit crimes against women, as well as diluting the resources available to victims by expanding them to men and other populations,” Wittman said. “Furthermore, these provisions promote unproven methods of victim treatment, infringe upon Second Amendment rights without due process, and fail to provide reasonable exemptions for religious organizations. VAWA was bipartisan for nearly two decades, and Congress must move forward with a bill that returns to the law’s original intent.” 

After passing the House, now the bill goes to the Senate for a vote.

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Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].

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